For Bobby Ferguson, Being Kwame's Pal Is Not So Good
There was a time when contractor Bobby Ferguson saw great benefit to being a close pal of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the politically powerful Hip Hop mayor of Detroit.
But Tuesday wasn’t one of those times.
During jury selection for his federal corruption trial, Ferguson -- clad in charcoal gray suit, black shirt and gray tie -- sat in seventh floor courtroom listening to one prospective juror after another talk about their unfavorable impression of the ex-mayor and his link to Ferguson. Some had negative opinions about Ferguson, too.
U.S. District Judge David Lawson reminded some jurors that the case did not involve the ex-mayor. But for some that didn’t seem to matter. They saw the link and admitted that they couldn’t be impartial jurors.
“I’m embarrassed but I just think there’s so much corruption in the city of Detroit I don’t know that I could be unbiased,” said a woman who was bounced from the jury pool. Each juror -- a total of 14 for the day -- was questioned in open court individually by the judge and lawyers.
The Ferguson case is the latest circus in town, one sure to captivate a public that is highly skeptical and untrusting of anyone with links to the ex-mayor. The media coverage is sure to boost the skepticism to code-red levels.
Ferguson, 43, is charged in a $12 million bid-rigging case that doesn’t involve Kilpatrick. In September, in a separate case, he’ll join his buddy Kilpatrick in a trial involving bribery, kickbacks and racketeering.
In this current case, he’s accused of falsifying bids, laundering money and dumping trash at the old Herman Gardens public housing complex. He also faces gun charges for being a felon in possession of weapons. Apparently he’s got a little temper and was convicted of pistol whipping an employee.
Along with Ferguson, two other defendants are standing trial: Michael Woodhouse, president of Excel Construction and Calvin Hall, vice president of Excel. Three other people have pleaded guilty in the case.
Jury selection will continue on Wednesday and could wrap up on Thursday.
But if Tuesday is any indication, it will be a slow and painful process. Some jurors expressed bias, but tried to say the right thing: That they could decide the case based on the facts, not on opinions based on media reports.
The judge, in some instances bought that, and in other cases, not so much. The latter were bounced from the pool. Of course, some didn't harbor strong opinions, making the process a little easier.
One young prospective juror, when questioned, said he was familiar with the overall story that Kilpatrick was helping out friends, like Ferguson, with bids.
He said he was of the opinion, because the allegations made it to trial, “obviously there’s a lot of corruption going on.”
“Could you be unbiased?” the judge asked.
“I don’t think that’s possible,” the man answered.
One prospective juror, the manager of a coffee house, who was bounced from the pool, said a lot of his customers are city cops and employees that he’s gotten to know. He said a lot of them --even those who know Kilpatrick -- “have a lot of negative things to say.”
"Most of the friends and colleagues of Kwame Kilpatrick have a lot of illegal doings and have harmed Detroit," the man said. "I believe there are people who have taken advantage of the city."
He also noted that even personal friends of Kilpatrick told him “what a crook he was.”
It’s all rather sad. The city of Detroit government is in such bad shape, and this publicity can only hurt the city, even if Kilpatrick is long gone.
All that being said, there was a rather light moment in court worth mentioning.
One prospective juror disclosed to the judge that she knew one of the attorneys in the case, Gerald Evelyn.
The judge turned to Evelyn and asked if he knew her, and Evelyn paused, and seemed a bit squeamish. He said he really couldn’t remember.
That presented a rather awkward moment.
Then the judge asked the woman how she knew him. The courtroom braced itself.
“I’m his dental hygientist,” she said.
Everyone, including the judge, started laughing.
Don’t expect many laughs in the weeks to come.